Where ever I lay my hat (that’s my home office)

Alan Measures, Moog

Marissa Mayer – recently appointed as President and CEO of Yahoo -  received a lot of press coverage following her decision \  ultimatum to come and work in the office or work for another company. The announcement provoked a debate on productivity and the merits or otherwise of working from home.  From where I sat (in my office, at home of course) the discussion that followed mostly missed the more central issues of trust and indirect or intrinsic benefits.

I should declare that I am fortunate enough to enjoy the best of both worlds; an employer that trusts me to work at home as much as I want, and still generous enough to provide me with an office when I prefer (or when it’s half term, when the travelling is easier and the noise levels at home increase). This isn’t just an arrangement that significantly aids my productivity, it’s one I value strongly, and see as a key benefit of working for Moog.  So a couple of days a week I substitute most of the two and a half hours I would spend commuting for more time working, and benefit from a bit more sleep, and quite a lot less money spent on petrol.  

As a reward person, I’ve always been an advocate for giving people what they value, if you can, rather than what you want them to have.  To that end, I’ve argued for “light touch” regulation on areas like job titles, working from home and dress code, and that we all end up better off sanctioning the occasional abuse by the minority rather than letting this fear of abuse define what we give.

It’s a philosophy that has more than once got me into trouble. I set up a switch to a smart casual dress code with one former employer who had a sizable call centre where it was proving difficult to find and then keep staff. I reasoned that a causal dress policy might make jobs there a little more appealing and a little less costly. It led to an email from the CEO that you could see had been typed with such venom the keyboard must have sunk about an inch into the desk.  I was to be held personally responsible for the decline in productivity that was now inevitable, as well as the lost customers he thought would recoil at the sight of men in M&S chinos and polo shirt. I suppose I didn’t help by replying and speculating how much more successful Richard Branson or Bill Gates could have been had they invested in a tie. Branson’s take on the changes at Yahoo were pretty clear – you have to trust your staff.

Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette talks about there being “something magical about sharing meals” but for me there’s something difficult to swallow in Google’s anti telecommuting stance given their products, and makes me wonder if it’s really just about money and control. Alexandra Shulman, British editor of Vogue laid out a defence of Meyer’s actions but it’s worth noting how in the last two paragraphs it all comes down to her desire for her team to be accessible on her terms, as and when she wants them to be.

And what about the money? Well, it’s worth heeding what happened to Robert Propst the man who designed the first work cubicles for Herman Miller. His Action Office designs aimed to increase efficiency, privacy, and create a better work environment. It didn’t take long for some companies to see that his designs could be modified to fit as many more employees into the smallest possible space. It had the opposite effect to what Propst had intended and he later described cubicle based workplaces as a “monolithic insanity”. Clearly the relationship between proximity and productivity needs to be explored with care.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi there,

    I too work from home and write a lot of material for coaches and mentors. I really enjoy composing course modules and how to books. At the same time I have to work really hard at bidding for new work constantly. I just wrote my first Amazon Kindle book called "How To Sell a Coaching Product or Service On-line" because so many of the coach consultants I've met simply don't have the technical know-how to put together a website well. It is written from the angle that if your website is a glorified business card, you can adapt it as a coach or mentor this way ... and I've left out the motivational market-speak because coaches and mentors are already amazing and motivated! Right! I hope you don't mind me dropping by your site to mention it. I think any way we consultant and freelance types gain passive income at the moment is worth investing a few hours a week into doing. I was inspired to write this book after doing ILM Coaching and Mentoring training module writing and reading some of John Whitmore's material. The coaches I meet always say to me: "I just want to put something on the site I find interesting" ... and I now think ... "you can, and with a tiny bit of thought you can attract some passive income and more off-line clients, while creating credibility in this market!" My book's on Kindle download if anyone wants to read Chapter 1 to see. I'm not posting a link because I really don't want you to think I'm spamming here!

  • Anonymous

    A nicely balanced blog, Alan.  Thank you.

    Like you I believe that the more you can develop a reward package that is attractive to individual preferences the more engaged employees will be.  Very often management control, bureaucracy and administrative complexities get in the way.